When you quit your job to become self-employed, you finally feel like you can live life on your own terms. You don’t have a supervisor breathing down your neck; you don’t have to worry if you take a long lunch; and you can work whenever you want. In short, you are your own boss. But if you have a service-based business and take on clients, it can start to feel as if you have multiple bosses.

I quit my job two years ago to become self-employed, and I did all the things I dreamed about. I slept in, sent emails in my pajamas, and worked when I wanted. But in my eagerness to please clients and do well in my new business, I said yes to nearly every demand, every time frame, and every request — without regard to my needs.

I’m not the only one who’s fallen into this trap. But when you’re self-employed, how do you strike the balance between taking care of yourself and taking care of your clients?

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Feeling Like You Have Multiple Bosses

You're the Boss — Don't Forget It! Self-Care for the #SelfEmployed If you're self-employed, you know how hard self-care can be. Check out these tips on how to take care of yourself while still meeting your clients' needs. #entrepreneur #ideasAfter a while, I started feeling ruled by multiple clients. Instead of one boss, I felt like I had many.

I worried if I pushed back on anything, or said that I needed more time for a project, my clients would let me go. You can imagine what happened next. I started to feel burned out and began to resent both my clients and my work. I wondered if I had made a mistake by quitting my job to become self-employed.

In the end, I realized I made a rookie mistake as a business owner: I hadn’t set expectations with my clients regarding how I worked and what I needed to run my business.

So when my clients needed more, I kept saying yes, and they kept asking for more.

You know the saying, “Give someone an inch, and they take a mile”? Well, it can be especially true when you’re self-employed. A few extra things here and there can add up and leave you at the mercy of your clients’ demands — all the while affecting your desired work-life balance. Part of learning how to take care of yourself is learning when to say “no.”

Set Expectations With Clients

As a service-based business owner, it’s key to treat yourself like a business owner (aka the boss) and not “just” whatever label you place on yourself.

For a long time, I thought I was “just” a lowly freelancer. But once I started to take myself seriously as a business owner, I realized that I needed to set better expectations with current and future clients. This way, we would all be on the same page and I could deliver my best work.

I like to think of myself as easygoing and nice to work with. I do my best to accommodate requests. So when a client asked me for a tight turnaround, I said I could make it happen.

But as my business grew and urgent requests increased in frequency, I had to come up with a solution for why I couldn’t always put out clients’ fires.

At one point, a colleague reminded me that, “Someone else’s emergency is not your emergency.” She was right.

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Set ‘Terms of Service’ From the Beginning

In order to help set things straight, I’ve decided to create a “terms of service” agreement so that clients know what to expect when they work with me.

This strategy is a great way to set boundaries from the beginning and will make it easier to take care of yourself going forward. For your terms of service, you can include things like:

  • When your office hours are, so clients know when they can reach you (and when you’re unavailable)
  • How much lead time you need to produce work
  • How you prefer to communicate (i.e., how best to reach you)
  • The number of revisions your client may request of your work
  • How long a client has to pay you for completed work
  • Any additional fees —late fees, rush fees, etc.
  • Who has final ownership of the work produced
  • How much notice either of you must provide upon deciding to terminate the agreement.

I’ve learned that if you don’t outline these things before you start working together, you may experience “requirement creep,” and clients may cross boundaries.

Self-Care Tips From Other Freelancers

Testimonials from individuals who have freelanced full-time confirm that transparent terms of service as well as clear communication between the client and the freelancer, are key to preserving a good work-life balance (and one’s sanity).

“Setting your own terms when starting any new project as a freelancer is important,” says Ryan Scollon, a freelance pay-per-click consultant. “I learned the hard way. I once had a client who would constantly call me at all hours of the day, even on weekends, too.”

“When I confronted the client about this, the response was that I had never told him my working hours,” Scollon continues.

“Now I set two main terms when starting a new project. The first is that all payments are upfront, and the second is all calls must be scheduled.”

In order to avoid any unnecessary stress or drama, set your terms and be clear with clients about what you need, how you work, and how much time you need to produce your best work.

To that end, it’s advisable to work out mutually agreeable terms with your client at the onset of a new gig. “You can edit the ‘contract’ until both parties agree on all of the terms as it relates to the project,” says content strategist Jenna Scaglione, founder of LadyContent.

“Jot down anything discussed during preliminary phone calls so you have it in writing, and make sure the client signs off on it before you start any work,” Scaglione recommends. Doing so will guarantee clear expectations, and ensure a healthy working dynamic between you and your client.

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The Bottom Line on How to Take Care of Yourself

Remember, you quit your jobto be your own boss — not to be bossed around by clients.

From my experience, clients have the best of intentions, but they aren’t mind readers. As in any relationship, communication is key. In order to smooth everything out and make sure you can take care of both yourself and your clients, set clear expectations before signing a contract or producing any work. This way you can still be your own boss — on your own terms.

Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.